Sunny California has long been a friend to cannabis. From the hippy movement of the 1960s, which was rooted on the southern Pacific, to the implementation of a medical cannabis program in 1996 – the first American state to allow such a framework – and ultimately to the introduction of recreational laws, the Golden State has always been a beacon of light for advocates, activists, patients and consumers.

One of only a handful of states with recreational laws governing cannabis, California first passed the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act on January 1 of 2018. While the bill moved to permit the sale of cannabis throughout the state, no concessions were ever made for animals or veterinarians.

In answer to the prospect of treating pets with cannabinoid-based medicine and getting veterinarians the same rights and privileges as other healthcare practitioners, assembly member Ash Karla proposed AB-2215, requiring the California Veterinary Medical Board to establish guidelines for vets to be able to discuss cannabis with clients. The bill would also protect veterinarians from disciplinary action.

In the summer of 2018, 2215 was signed into law, making California the first state to bring veterinarians into the medical cannabis arena. No longer can vets in one of the most cannabis-liberal states in the U.S. lose their license to practice because they discussed hemp or CBD dog treats with a pet owner.

California Set to Bring Veterinarians Into the Cannabis Space
Backed by vocal proponents like the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), the bill became law on the first of January 2019, not a day too soon for some advocates. Valerie Fenstermaker, executive director of the CVMA, recently told reporters that veterinarians needed to be included in the discussion because pet-based cannabis products were already being sold to pet owners throughout California.

“We have dispensaries selling these products and nobody...outside of a veterinary professional should be giving advice about using these products in animals,” she said. “It’s what’s best for animals, it’s what’s best for clients and certainly, it’s what’s best for the veterinarians, because they’re the professionals.” 

Particularly, 2215 will require the state’s veterinary board to develop set guidelines, by a year to the day the bill comes into effect, for veterinarians to follow when it comes to discussing cannabis-based options with clients. However, the law still won’t allow vets to give cannabinoid medicine or any other cannabis product to those clients. AB-2215 is strictly concerned with two things: opening dialogue, and protecting veterinarians from penalties when discussing the plant and its concentrates.

The move to implement bill 2215 is unprecedented. In both states and countries that have legalized recreational cannabis, veterinarians find themselves on the outside looking in. As with many other movements and sub-plots of cannabis reform both in the U.S. and across the globe, California has proven a lead character. What’s next for veterinarians – prescribing cannabis-based pet treats, developing dosing guidelines and spearheading research into the effectiveness of treating animals with cannabinoids – is still anyone’s guess. But, at the very least, the door is now open for a discussion.

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